Credit: By Drnantu on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad launched on the tablet yesterday (2 September), allowing digital subscribers to read a tablet-optimised version of its print edition.

The national tabloid already has around 15,000 readers of the desktop PDF version of the newspaper, according to digital manager Patrick Saliën, but the tablet version is intended to imitate the physical newspaper as closely as possible.

"We believe in the look and the feel and the rhythm that is in our newspaper," Saliën told Journalism.co.uk, which he said is reflected in the mix of hard or political news with lighter topics throughout the print edition. "We believe that mixing different stories into the flow of the newspaper works and we wanted to do the same for our tablet-optimised version."

Het Nieuwsblad, which translates simply to The Newspaper, includes regional news and sport sections in 16 editions across the northern region of Flanders, all of which will be accessible through in the tablet version as well as a 30-day archive of issues.

"The articles are presented in a much better way to read on tablet but the content is the same," said Saliën. "The same copy, the same articles, but we add extra audio-visual material, like extra pictures and videos, but only when it really matters. When they give the articles something extra."

Readers can expand stories by tapping on articles and browse through the pages of the newspaper with a horizontal swipe.

Most apps or tablet versions of newspapers feel like a website, said Saliën, but Het Nieuwsblad wants to make a distinction between the types of content they offer and the medium by which readers can access it.

"Everything on the website is free and the paper is for people who pay," he said "When you make a tablet-optimised version that has a little bit of a website's look and feel we don't believe that people will pay for that because they don't have the feeling that this is different content from what they see on the website."

Hard news is published on the website immediately, said Saliën, but in-depth and analytical pieces which appear in the newspaper after a story breaks would be kept for the print and tablet editions.

Het Nieuwsblad uses digital publishing platform Twipe to import PDFs of the newspaper into cloud-based storage, where additional pictures or videos can be added, with an emphasis on ease of use for an editor to produce the final version.

"There is no need for any technical knowledge, it can be a newspaper editor or journalist who can do that, it doesn't have to be a webmaster or something," Saliën said.

"Most of the work is done by the journalists themselves when it comes to extras and only one editor is available every evening to create the tablet-optimised version."

Saliën said that while individual print sales had been dropping, print subscriptions had remained popular and new platforms for digital subscriptions would compensate for the drop in print readers.

Update: This article has been corrected to show that there were 15,000 readers of the desktop PDF version, not 15,000 digital subscribers. It has also been amended to clarify the mix of content in the newspaper.

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